THE senior coroner for South Northumberland has reflected on a career spanning five decades, following his retirement.

Eric Armstrong became deputy coroner for South Northumberland and North Tyneside in 1976 before being appointed senior coroner in 2003. He retired at the end of September last year. Inquests in South Northumberland are currently being dealt with by Tony Brown, senior coroner for North Northumberland.

“Being a coroner is officially a part-time role, but you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Mr Armstrong explained.

“I’ve been contacted while I’ve been on holiday in various parts of the world, twice on Christmas Day morning and many times in the middle of the night.

“It’s an interesting and difficult job. I believe I have done what I can to help bereaved families.

“It can be emotionally stressful, especially when you’re dealing with babies and children – that hits you hard – and servicemen and other young people.”

Mr Armstrong has handled some high-profile inquests in his long career, including PC David Rathband, the officer shot and blinded by Raoul Moat, and former Love Island star Sophie Gradon, from Ponteland.

The role of coroner has existed since 1194, but the duties have changed over time.

“Our job now is a fact-finding mission, to determine who died, when, where and how they died,” he added.

“However, we don’t look for a reason why someone might take their own life, nor seek to establish blame for an accident and I understand how frustrating it can be for families when we can’t answer all their questions. I have been reduced to tears. There are very few coroners who haven’t.”